Wednesday, September 24, 2014

greatest work of the Spirit

"He [the Holy Spirit] will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you."  (John 16:14-15 ESV)

"Getting the glory of Christ before your eyes and keeping it there — is the greatest work of the Spirit that I can imagine.”  (C. John Miller, The Heart of a Servant Leader)

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

the unsearchable riches of Christ

"To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ..." (Ephesians 3:8 ESV)

"...that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God's mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge." (Colossians 2:2-3 ESV)

Jeremy Walker writes...

Who can appreciate the wonder of the good news in Christ Jesus? Who has exhausted those precious promises? Who has understood all those shining certainties which are “Yes” and “Amen” in Christ to the glory of God, this revelation of life abundant that Christ has brought in and with Himself (2 Cor. 1:20)

Paul has recorded in scant outline in this letter to the Ephesians only some of the unsearchable riches of Christ. He is scratching the surface, picking up a few of the diamonds that lie in the topsoil. He could speak of the riches of Christ’s righteousness, compassion, goodness, and on and on. The apostle says that none of them can properly be fathomed. No one has ever walked through these fields, climbed these mountains, traversed these valleys; no one has ever explored these trackless seas to their depths and extents, traced the rushing rivers to their source—the Lord Jesus Christ is in Himself a whole world of wonder!

However much you think you know these things, they remain unexhausted and inexhaustible. You have barely started to know them. They are so vast that you cannot reach the end of them. They are so intricate that no matter how you trace them with the fingers of your most incisive thoughts, no matter how carefully you discern the beauty and wisdom of these works of God, you will never be able to come to the end or be able to put it all together. You must stand back and gaze again at the tapestry of God’s saving works through Christ Jesus and say, “These things are beyond searching out. Here I bow, defeated and adoring.” If you had a thousand lifetimes, you would need a thousand, thousand more even to begin to understand these things. Only eternity will give you time enough to start searching out more of the unsearchable riches of Christ.

But what every saint must grasp—what we long for all people to grasp—is that these unsearchable riches are all found in Christ... Here we find true deity (He is God) and true humanity (He becomes man) in true agony—suffering to purchase our redemption blessings.

You cannot know these blessings apart from Jesus Christ or find them other than in Him. You cannot experience them until you are in Christ. You cannot receive them without Him, because these are the unsearchable riches of Christ, belonging to and found in Him alone. As we have said, He is both treasury and treasure. You cannot open the box, take out the treasures, and walk away with them. They belong in the display cabinet and are splendid in themselves. In the abstract, love, forgiveness, truth, power, hope, and mercy are beautiful and good in themselves and can be great things. But it is when they are found in and of Christ that they are constituted unsearchable, and being of Christ, they are for salvation. To be found in Him is to come into possession of them. Because they belong to Him and are found in Him, they stretch beyond human comprehension. It is because they are of Him and in Him—our Ransomer—that they are given for human blessing.

The unsearchable riches of Christ are proclaimed in order that they might be known and enjoyed, received by sinners who have come to rest in the boundless resources of Jesus Christ as their Deliverer, the One given for the very purpose of meeting the needs of fallen people.

Grasping our new identity as those possessed of this Christ in all His matchless beauty and glory is vital to living in accordance with that new identity. As these things are given to be received, so they are given to be pondered and enjoyed: “For all things are yours: whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas, or the world or life or death, or things present or things to come—all are yours. And you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s” (1 Cor. 3:21–23).

(Jeremy Walker, Life in Christ: Becoming and Being a Disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ)

Saturday, September 20, 2014

highlights from life in Christ (Jeremy Walker)

Enjoying Jeremy Walker's book, Life in Christ: Becoming and Being a Disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ (Reformation Heritage Books, 2013).  Here are some of my highlighted excerpts...

If you will not look to Christ, then you cannot be saved. If you have not looked to Christ, then you are not saved. But if you will look to Christ, you must be saved. If you have looked to Christ, you are saved.

...there are many who doubt this offer. Some torture themselves with fears that perhaps, after all, they were not included in this grand invitation or encompassed by this gracious command.

The church is to believe this promise, both for ourselves—we are to trust Him exclusively—and for others—we are to offer Him universally. We are to put no human limitation on divine redemption. Christ makes no exceptions: He says to any sinner, man or woman, boy or girl, “Look to Me and be saved.” We are not to refuse Christ because of our sin when Christ has not refused us on account of it. It is sinners whom Christ has come to save.

We are to look—and leave the saving to a sovereign and merciful God. 

The saved sinner is a person under assault. People often mistakenly assume that conversion means an end to spiritual battles. Although God in His mercy often grants the new believer a period of respite from strife and abounding joy, there is a real sense in which conversion is not so much the end of our battles as their beginning.

To lack food is terrible; to lack money is distressing; to lack health is miserable; to lack friends is tragic; but to lack Christ is to lack the greatest and most necessary good—it is the most awful situation imaginable.

To be “in Christ” is—in the very instant in which that is true—to be the inheritor of all that Jesus accomplished by His atoning death and glorious resurrection.

I do not mean by this that there are no more battles to fight, but that we have changed sides.

As we will see, the issue is not the outward circumstances of the conversion but the inward reality. The mark of being in Christ is the reality of the new creation, and a person can be born again under a gentle breeze as much as in a thundering storm. We do not need to undergo the kind of crisis that Saul of Tarsus experienced, but we must experience the same essential transition.

But we need to see and feel, truly to understand and appreciate the incongruity—the utter weirdness and wrongness—of being in Christ and walking in our old ways.

Let us not trust in educators, politicians, mystics, medics, moralists, philosophers, spiritualists, and scientists, though some may have their place. The new life in Christ is secured and advanced through the powerful entrance of the gospel, which effectively works in those who believe. Whoever comes to Christ in faith—repenting of his sins, seeing his misery without Christ, seeking grace to be in Christ—and earnestly desiring that one day he might see and be with Christ—will find Christ to be his Savior and Lord and will enter into the blessed realities of the new creation in himself now and look forward to a life in a new heaven and new earth with Christ in days to come, the very heaven of heaven.

Monday, September 15, 2014

finding a good master

Everybody ends up serving somebody or something in life!  Make sure you find a good master! (Hint: see John 10:10-11)

Saturday, September 6, 2014

highlights from Loving God (Bernard of Clairvaux)

Here are some excerpts from On Loving God, by Bernard of Clairvaux: 

You want me to tell you why God is to be loved and how much. I answer, the reason for loving God is God Himself; and the measure of love due to Him is immeasurable love.

He gave Himself for us unworthy wretches? And being God, what better gift could He offer than Himself? Hence, if one seeks for God's claim upon our love here is the chiefest: Because He first loved us (I John 4.19).  

But it is hard, nay rather, impossible, for a man by his own strength or in the power of free-will to render all things to God from whom they came, without rather turning them aside, each to his own account, even as it is written, For all seek their own' (Phil. 2.21); and again, The imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth' (Gen. 8.21).

His Body sown in the grave has blossomed in the Resurrection (I Cor. 15.42); and in like manner our valleys and fields which were barren or frozen, as if dead, glow with reviving life and warmth.  

So it behooves us, if we would have Christ for a frequent guest, to fill our hearts with faithful meditations on the mercy He showed in dying for us, and on His mighty power in rising again from the dead.

Creation was not so vast a work as redemption; for it is written of man and of all things that were made, He spoke the word, and they were made' (Ps. 148.5). But to redeem that creation which sprang into being at His word, how much He spoke, what wonders He wrought, what hardships He endured, what shames He suffered! Therefore what reward shall I give unto the Lord for all the benefits which He hath done unto me? In the first creation He gave me myself; but in His new creation He gave me Himself, and by that gift restored to me the self that I had lost.

Love is an affection of the soul, not a contract: it cannot rise from a mere agreement, nor is it so to be gained. It is spontaneous in its origin and impulse; and true love is its own satisfaction. It has its reward; but that reward is the object beloved. For whatever you seem to love, if it is on account of something else, what you do really love is that something else, not the apparent object of desire.

Rest is in Him alone. Man knows no peace in the world; but he has no disturbance when he is with God.

I have said already that the motive for loving God is God Himself. And I spoke truly, for He is as well the efficient cause as the final object of our love. He gives the occasion for love, He creates the affection, He brings the desire to good effect.

He has no gift for them better than Himself. He gives Himself as prize and reward: He is the refreshment of holy soul, the ransom of those in captivity.

But here is a paradox, that no one can seek the Lord who has not already found Him. It is Thy will, O God, to be found that Thou may be sought, to be sought that Thou may the more truly be found.

So then in the beginning man loves God, not for God's sake, but for his own.

No longer do we love God because of our necessity, but because we have tasted and seen how gracious the Lord is.

Whosoever praises God for His essential goodness, and not merely because of the benefits He has bestowed, does really love God for God's sake, and not selfishly.

In this life, I think, we cannot fully and perfectly obey that precept, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind' (Luke 10.27).

And to this degree no human effort can attain: it is in God's power to give it to whom He wills.

The fourth degree of love is attained for ever when we love God only and supremely, when we do not even love ourselves except for God's sake.

Neither fear nor self-interest can convert the soul. They may change the appearance, perhaps even the conduct, but never the object of supreme desire.

Sometimes a slave may do God's work; but because he does not toil voluntarily, he remains in bondage.

Charity, the law of the Lord, joins the Three Persons into the unity of the Godhead and unites the holy Trinity in the bond of peace.

Love is the eternal law whereby the universe was created and is ruled.

The eternal law of righteousness ordains that he who will not submit to God's sweet rule shall suffer the bitter tyranny of self: but he who wears the easy yoke and light burden of love (Matt. 11.30) will escape the intolerable weight of his own self-will.  Then freed from the weight of my own will, I can breathe easily under the light burden of love.

In like manner, by God's grace, it will come about that man will love his body and all things pertaining to his body, for the sake of his soul. He will love his soul for God's sake; and he will love God for Himself alone. 

Everyone really should read this classic work.  The complete text can be read here.   

Monday, September 1, 2014

Jesus died for my good works too

I made the statement last week that "Jesus died not only for my sins but also for my imperfect good works." The Apostle Paul prayed for the believers at Colossae that they "walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work..." (1:10) 

The problem that all of us face as believers is that even our best works are tainted with sin, with impure motives and designs. How can we ever truly please God with our feeble attempts at good?

There is great liberation in knowing that God views not only our past rebellion but all of our works through the lens of his Beloved Son.  The blood of Jesus cleanses us even as we are walking "in the light" (1 John 1:7).  We can please him!

The Westminster Confession states in Chapter 16...  

VI. Notwithstanding, the persons of believers being accepted through Christ, their good works also are accepted in Him; not as though they were in this life wholly unblamable and unreproveable in God's sight but that He, looking upon them in His Son, is pleased to accept and reward that which is sincere, although accompanied with many weaknesses and imperfections. [References: Eph 1:6; 1 Pet 2:5; Ex 28:38; Gen 4:4; Heb 11:4; Job 9:20; Ps 143:2; Heb 13:20-21; 2 Cor 8:12; Heb 6:10; Matt 25:21-23]

The Father looks upon us as being united with his Son.  He is pleased with our faith, love, gratitude, obedience to his Word, and desires to honor him -- however weak or small these may be. 

By the way, John Frame is helpful in explaining what are the criteria for good works, in The Doctrine of the Christian Life, pp. 27-28...

  • Right motive (faith working through love)
  • Right standard (the Word of God)
  • Right goal (to glorify God)

Right motive:  "But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin." (Romans 14:23)  "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love." (Galatians 5:6) "And he said to him, 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'" (Matthew 22:37-39)

Right standard:  "Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him."  (John 14:21)  "So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, 'If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.'" (John 8:31-32) "Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness." (1 John 3:4)

Right goal: "So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." (1 Corinthians 10:31)  " the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved." (Ephesians 1:6)  "And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him." (Colossians 3:17)

5 important words to know

This from John MacArthur, quoted in David Kingston's sermon this Sunday. 

In justification, the sinner stands before God as the accused and is declared righteous.

In redemption, the sinner stands before God as the slave and is granted freedom by ransom.

In forgiveness, the sinner stands before God as a debtor, and the debt having been paid is forgotten.

In reconciliation, the sinner stands before God as an enemy, and is led to peace as a friend.

In sonship, the sinner stands before God as a stranger and is adopted as a son.